VOL. 125 | NO. 208 | Tuesday, October 26, 2010
County Commission Spars Over PILOT Rules For Suburbs
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners sparred over how much oversight is too much when it comes to awarding tax breaks for corporate and industrial moves to Shelby County and expansions of existing businesses.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell reached a new interlocal agreement with the county’s six suburban towns and cities. But legal opinions from the county attorney’s office sent the matter to the commission Monday for approval.
The commission delayed a vote to talk more about the rules and points system that are the guide for awarding PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes). The rules and measures for monitoring compliance being discussed would be similar to the rules now used by the Memphis-Shelby County Industrial Development Board.
Compliance would be monitored by the Memphis Shelby County Economic Development department. The economic development department is the keeper of the statistics and reports for the Memphis-Shelby County IDB.
But the commission approved a temporary interlocal agreement between Shelby County and Arlington for PILOTs that would allow Arlington to pursue tax breaks for an expansion of an unidentified existing business. Luttrell administration officials were not specific about the expansion saying time is short.
The discussion to come includes an amendment that does not allow points toward awarding tax breaks for luring businesses away from other parts of Shelby County.
Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said the effort would “prevent poaching” and represented a “pretty good compromise.”
But he had problems with efforts by others on the commission to require quarterly reports on hiring and job creation promises made by businesses getting the tax breaks.
Commissioner Henri Brooks wanted the reports kept in place.
“How can you talk about over-regulation when you’re talking about taxpayer dollars?” she asked. “They need to know where their dollars are going.”
Economic Development director Charles Gullota, in the last two years, has coordinated and ramped up compliance measures that track every PILOT issued in the county since 1990. His report on PILOTs showed the city and county were getting more in tax revenue than they gave up in tax breaks and that the businesses stayed in virtually every case after the tax breaks expired.
Bunker and Commissioner Chris Thomas argued that quarterly reports by the smaller suburban IDBs might strain their resources to deal with the paperwork.
Luttrell has also called on the commission to cut requirements that he says amount to “over-regulation.”
In other action the commission:
•Delayed a vote for a month on a resolution that would up retirement benefits to former Shelby County Commissioner Joe Ford by counting his five years as a Memphis City Council member toward his county retirement benefits. The county retirement board denied the request saying the two year gap between Ford’s time on the council and his service on the commission means he doesn’t qualify. Ford was paid for the council service by the city. The resolution the commission is considering would allow his council time to be counted provided he pays Shelby County the $7,500 he got from the city.
Commission chairman Sidney Chism called for the delay.
“I think it’s only fair to all parties concerned that we take a close look at the true intent,” Chism said.
•Approved a $105 million refund of the county’s general obligation public improvement and school bonds. The action saves the county $15 million, according to County Finance Director Jim Huntzicker. There will be a $6 million impact on the county’s debt “almost immediately” he said with another $500,000 in annual savings to the county in later years. The bonds should go to market in January.
•Appointed Lee Wilson as the newest judicial commissioner. Wilson was appointed a General Sessions Criminal Court Judge by the commission in Jan. 2009. He made the court a domestic violence court. He sought the rest of the term of office in one of five special judicial election on this year’s Aug. 5 ballot and was defeated. As a judicial commissioner, Wilson will be holding hearings and making bond decisions about those arrested before they go before a judge for a preliminary hearing. The positions were created to relieve Shelby County Jail overcrowding by releasing those who are not accused of violent crimes and are the most likely candidates to show up for their later court dates.
•Approved on the first of three readings an ordinance that would ban the roadside sale of animals that are pets. The ordinance has an exemption for livestock. Commissioners had plenty of questions about loopholes in the ordinance that might permit out of state animal mills to get a permit and set up shop on the side of a road. Commissioner Mike Carpenter, the sponsor, said there might be amendments in committee hearings next week to address the concerns before second reading.
•Approved a resolution backing the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention coming Nov. 5-6 to the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Commissioner Steve Mulroy, a science fiction fan, wore a Star Trek uniform to present the resolution to organizers of the gathering.
“I’ve always thought commissioner Mulroy was from another planet,” quipped Thomas. “This proves it.”